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"Get Your Kicks" How to Search Route 66

By Land ~ Sea Discovery Group Staff

America's trails and byways since before its conception have been under going progressive changes that although seemingly for the better have left bits and pieces of it's history behind. From Indian footpaths crossing the Appachian Mountains to the pioneers traveling the Spanish Trail our forefathers have forged constantly westward towards the Pacific Ocean. Along the way the settlers and explorers would stop to rest and eventually stay to establish communities.

It was William Wolfskill in an expedition in 1830 that pioneered the opening of the ancient Spanish Trail as a major route for the western migration between Santa Fe and Los Angeles. Later in the 1860's men like John Brown improved sections of the trail and charged a toll. The word "turnpike" came into use in the 1870's. Eventually the trails became obsolete and were replaced by the major highways we know today. Along each stage of newly developed road systems new communities sprang up and old ones either died or became familiar only to those that lived there. Many of these forgotten towns and villages are tiny time capsules of historical information and the source of many treasure hunting sites.

The California winter months for me are spent mostly in the desert areas as it's a time when I can most tolerate the heat or lack of it. Sometimes I put my Toyota Forerunner through its paces looking for traces of the old Spanish Trail and camp remnants, while other times like today I just get out there and explore the highways.

In the trunk was my Whites Spectrum, a number 2 shovel, a sifting screen and a bag of miscellaneous tools. Basically I was prepared for any on or near road experience in the realm of treasure hunting. I had my rock pick, bottle prod, gold pan, and gloves. You just never know.

Sometimes you just want to get out there and drive. I gassed up my '58 Impala, plugged in my portable CD player, stuck in a Buddy Holly CD, and headed down Route 66 chewing a stick of Black Jack. It was to be a day filled with nostalgia.


This shell of a building on Route 66 gave up a number of coins.

Route 66 to some called the "Mother Road," was started in the late 1920's. It ran from Los Angeles to Chicago some 2,000 miles. It passed through towns like St. Louis, Joplin, Oklahoma City, Flagstaff, and Barstow just to name a few.

Over its roads dust bowl refugees traveled west searching for a better life and many a G. I. fresh out from World War II sought out a new beginning for their young families along that great stretch of black pavement. In the early 60's parents vacationed in the west and kids like me stared out the windows of the back seat and marveled at the wide open spaces. Each town seemed to hold a small adventure for me, one that lasted only long enough for pop to fill up the gas tank or to get a bite to eat in a small cafe. Friendly waitresses and helpful station attendants abounded at each stop all eager to point out a local site of interest to the traveler. What memories! "Clean your window sir?" "Did you get your S& H Greenstamps Maam?" Those pump jockeys of the past are now legends that the youth of today would look at like aliens from Mars.

So here I was traveling over a small stretch of Route 66 outside Victorville making notes on the small scratch pad I always take with me and enjoying the fantastically blue skies above the ever changing horizon. In my note pad I jot down sites that I can't always get to that particular day or places of interest I want to explore or research later. The list starts quite simply with the address of a Victorian house surrounded by two vacant lots. Permission to search will have to be obtained first from the owners a process that can be done later. Then farther down the road is a park complete with a few of America's unfortunate homeless. The park lawn runs from the street right up to the railroad right of way. A large slab tells me a station was here at one time. I list the location in my book and move on.

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Pump jockeys from gas stations like this one on historic Route 66 are legendary.

As I head down the highway listening to Holly's, "That'll Be The Day" every bend in the road holds a possible treasure site. Old houses, abandoned motels, souvenir stands, and gas stations lined up along the desolate reaches of road. It's a trip of mixed emotions. Memories flood in of the old and good times only to be crushed by the sight of an old motel complete with a teepee shaped neon sign, converted into the permanent living quarters of families over run with kids covered in filth. This particular part of my trip was sad and rundown. New superhighways definitely took their toll on this area west of Victorville. Occasionally an owner has taken pride in their icon of American history and tried to restore and preserve his property for the travelers of Route 66. Other stretches of this "Mother Highway" have played to the emotions and memories of travelers by rebuilding complete sections of towns and way stops. New souvenir shops have opened in some of the unlikeliest buildings but are surviving thanks to a new breed of American explorer. The Route 66 explorer now has a magazine to peruse that is published quarterly along with stores carrying exclusive route 66 memorabilia and the like.

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Behind the station was a picnic area which provided the author with some small treasures.

With 2,000 miles more or less of treasure sites and only six free hours this day to search I decided to stop at an abandoned gas station. A covered roof near the pumps provided cover from the heat and rain for the weary traveler. It also covered the entrance to the area that housed the soft drinks and snacks and the way back to the windowed luncheon section out back. A picnic area was set up behind the station. Off to the right were the detached restrooms and 100 feet or so beyond that was a barn of sorts for doing repairs. On the left of the station were out buildings that possibly were rented by the night.

I unpacked my Spectrum, plugged in my headphones, and headed for the entrance way. Almost immediately my detector sounded and after pinpointing my target I tried carefully to dig it out. The sun baked ground was hard as pavement. After considerable effort, three inches down, was a 1936 D Indian Head Nickel. I couldn't think right that second if the three legged buffalo was on the 1936 D or the 1937 D. I flipped it over and, well, I guess the year didn't matter right now because the buffalo had four legs. After an hour of tough digging I headed back to the picnic area. The ground was much softer here and in just a minute I dug out a boy scout neckerchief holder, three mercury dimes and a handful of wheat pennies. Before I headed out I found 27 wheat pennies, 8 nickels, 6 silver dimes, and 9 quarters the best being a 1927 S. Also dug up was a metal Tootsie Toy car, a costume jewelry broach, and half of a hard plastic soldier, undoubtedly a casualty of some small boys imaginary war game.

I continued up the highway and near a place called Point Of Rocks I saw the glare of broken glass of the side of the road. I backtracked to a dirt road and followed it into where I saw the glass reflections. Sure enough I found an old dump. Not as old as I would have liked though. It dated roughly back to the 1940's and though the dump had been gone though before I still managed to find two Coke bottles and a real nice Dr. Pepper.

Hey it had been a fun day on Route 66. I found a number of new leads to follow up, got in some metal detecting, and had a real nice drive, listening to Buddy Holly and the Crickets. The ambiance was just right, and as I headed back to Los Angeles reading imaginary Burma Shave signs a 1960 Corvette flew by on the other side with two guys in it that looked amazingly like Tod and Buz.

SOURCE DOCUMENTATION;

1. Richard D. and Kathryn L. Thompson, Pioneer Of The Mojave, Desert Knolls Press, 1995.
2. Route 66 Magazine, Paul Taylor Publisher and Managing Editor, Spring 1995.
3. Writers personal experiences January 1996.

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